Sports Illustrated: Court win for praying coach would erode democracy

Former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy (First Liberty Institute photo)
Former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy (First Liberty Institute photo)

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Sports Illustrated has been known since it was founded in 1954 for talented writers who craft engaging you-are-there features, and Greg Bishop is no exception.

But many Twitter users are indicating, in so many words, that Bishop should stick to sports after venturing into the Constitution, law and politics.

In a tweet promoting his lengthy story on fired high school football coach Joe Kennedy’s prayer case in the Supreme Court, Bishop called the expected upcoming ruling in Kennedy’s favor “an erosion of a bedrock of American democracy.”

Bishop wrote that after having conducted a brief prayer on the field after every game for eight seasons, the decision to engage in a legal battle after the district told him to stop praying was “theatrics” and a “performative … plea for attention.”

Kennedy’s case, the sports writer said, became a “culture-war cudgel,” and the coach himself became “a human embodiment of a country that’s deeply divided; a religious movement that’s surging with momentum, even as organized religion becomes increasingly less popular; and, most of all, a powerful right-wing machine many say is employing a timeless division tactic: us vs. them.”

“To them, he’s a hero, David slaying an anti-faith Goliath,” Bishop continued. “To others, he’s a sledgehammer aimed at a bedrock of democracy: the separation of church and state.”

That interpretation of the Constitution hinges on Thomas Jefferson’s use of the language “separation of church and state” in a letter. The words, however, appear nowhere in the Constitution. The Founders explained in the Federalist papers that the intent of the First Amendment is to protect religious worship from government interference, and it simply states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof from establishing a law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Bishop dives deeper, parroting the Democratic Party’s slanderous narrative that Kennedy represents “the other side” of the country’s sharp divide, whose members – according to four “scholars” with whom he consulted – are best described as “white Christian nationalists.”

“They believe America was created by a preeminence of people like themselves and should always have laws in place that reflect America’s origins,” Bishop wrote.

Republican Sen. Jim Lankford of Oklahoma was among the Twitter users who reacted to Bishop’s post.

“Actually, the Court affirming Coach Kennedy’s right to live his faith upholds the bedrock of our democracy – it doesn’t erode it,” he wrote.

Former NFL placekicker Jay Feely tweeted: “Disappointing article Greg. I knelt and prayed after every game I played in the NFL. It was my way of publicly thanking god. With all the challenges in todays society we should encourage faith not discourage.

“Freedom OF religion is very different than freedom FROM religion,” he wrote.

‘One side uses facts’
One of the scholars Bishop cites in his article is Rachel Laser, the lead lawyer for the Bremerton School District in the Kennedy case. Laser also happens to be the president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which was founded in 1947 in reaction to Supreme Court’s ruling in Everson v. Board of Education that spending tax funds to bus children to religious schools did not breach the First Amendment.

Laser said both sides in the culture war push for their version of “rights.”

“But Laser makes a critical distinction in how they push,” the sports writer says. “One side uses facts, she says. The other, she believes, distorts them. (Four scholars agreed.)”

Eventually, Bishop comes down to informing his readers that even though the “white Christian majority” shrank, “the Christian conservative base was reinvigorated and emboldened over the past seven years, anyway.”

“That owes mostly to Donald Trump’s presidency, his proposed Muslim ban and anti-immigration stances, his border wall and inciting rhetoric; and his appointments of religious conservatives to the judiciary’s most powerful positions.”

On Tuesday morning, Kennedy and his attorney, Jeremy Dys of First Liberty Institute, reacted to the Sports Illustrated story.

They said they didn’t have a beef with Bishop but with the magazine’s editors, particularly for the headline “When Faith and Football Teamed Up Against American Democracy.”

And the subhed said: “The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the case of a football coach at a public high school who was told he wasn’t allowed to pray on the field in front of players. The expected result is a win for the coach—and the further erosion of the separation between church and state.”

See the ‘Fox & Friends’ segment with Joe Kennedy:

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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